We had been waiting for the wind to fulfill the terribly rational prophecy of the meteorologists and back to the South. It had been huffing and puffing feebly from the West for the last couple days, painting heaps of churned up grey into the sky above and sending a full day of calming drizzle down to us as a sweet and refreshing heavenly gift. Finally on the morning of June 22 they obliged, cooled down and came at us gently but with a clear hint of the icy sphere of Antarctica. We left our cozy, cradled cocoon in the late morning hours, pulling the anchor out of its azure holding ground, squeezing through the tight opening of the atoll’s pass, and soon were underway on the final stretch of our voyage north to the temperate climes.
For a good while the seas were flat and only after we had left the reef and its temporary inhabitants a couple miles in our wake that we entered again the rolling reality of the open oceans. But the wind was gentle and on the stern, from where little by little it wandered down the numbers of the compass rose and settled in the Southeasterly quarters for the rest of the passage.
The second day the breeze had stiffened a bit and by nightfall we were doing a steady seven to eight knots. I’m never comfortable leaving the big sail up during the night. Even during the day the big main sail up the mast means constant worrying. Will the wind pick up? Will we get it down in time if they do? Is that bend in the yard as much as it can take? And so on and on! Anything can happen out there on the oceans and the fragility of the slender bamboos that make up the spars of that sizeable sail are a bit like propping up over-cooked spaghetti when it comes to their task of holding up the 260 square feet of white tarp. Even a slight increase in wind can make them deform into all kinds of wicked shapes and make the hair in the back of your neck rise from slumber like a waking monster of the netherworld. But I was in a what-the-heck state of mind at this stage. There were certainly bamboos of sufficient size to be found in Fiji, I tried to calm myself down, so worse come to worst if we brake one of the spars, we should be able to reach the islands easily with our smaller main sail. Aluna raced through the night like a galloping horse on a dusty racetrack. I kept a keen eye on her speed by turning on the GPS every now and then. There were peaks of ten and every now and then hits of eleven knots and the riding was good. Exhilarating in fact, the rushing of the water along the plywood hulls seemed like the bow of a high-pitched fiddle caressing its master in a tight embrace. Big slabs of dark clouds wandered overhead, obscuring the myriads of sparkling stars for long and lonely moments before moving off with all their towering might to the distant horizon in the Northwest. The moon was young and only with us for the first couple hours of the night. The rest was laid in darkness until after seemingly endless waiting the morning hours announced their imminence. First with a timid shine creeping up from the horizon, then with the trepid tremor of dusk and finally with the red burning luminous explosion a new day broke. And we were still speeding along. For another whole day and another whole night.
The following morning a solid landmass lay just off our port bows. Matuku Island loomed mysteriously in the morning mist, its high and verdant peaks thrusting up the cottonesque trade wind clouds into heaps of cumulonimbus formations. We had entered the Koro Sea and territorial Fijian waters, delimited in the West by Viti Levu, Fiji’s mainland, in the East by the many low and strewn about islands of the Lau Group, and in the North by Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest landmass and our intended destination.
Two more islands soon came in sight. Far off to the East in the gleaming light of the morning sun sat the silhouette of Totoya Island, a volcanic cone with its South face collapsed, opening the submerged caldera to the sea and creating a splendid natural harbor. About thirty miles further to the North Moala Island loomed and we spent the day admiring the outrageous beauty of these outcrops, the fruits of violent volcanic upheaval in a not so distant past.
By four in the afternoon we had made our watery way past Moala Island and were getting ready for our last night on the bumpy seas, the eighty and some miles stretch to Koro Island, around which we would have to make our way in the morning to enter the great Savusavu Bay, centered on Vanua Levu’s South coast. There were more little islets and treacherous reefs off to port only a couple miles from our intended course, so a careful watch was needed all night long. As we had grown used to by now I stayed up in the cockpit until two in the morning, but which time Nephi emerged puffing out of the port companionway and took over the duty of diligent attention, staring into the night, scanning the horizon for possible hazards to our navigation. Feeble lights from scantly electrified human settlements, but none of the navigational lights indicated on the charts seemed to be on working order. Not until getting close to the Southern tip of Koro Island did we see the first effects of Fiji’s cash strapped government, emitting its sweepingly reassuring message of navigational certainty out into the darkness of the early morning hours. Once rounded the last jagged promontory of this island with a backbone of volcanic cinder cones it was a last run towards the light tower sitting gingerly on the seaward extreme of Point Reef, which marks the entrance to Savusavu Bay.
Navigating the gusty downdrafts in the lee of the feisty green palm tree studded peninsula I called Waitui Marina on the VHF, announcing our imminent arrival. We were met by a small outboard motor powered skiff just off the concrete commercial wharf at the entrance to Nakama creek and guided to a mooring buoy close by. By 10:30 in the morning we were tied up and safely connected to solid Fijian ground through a world renowned helix mooring, which like a giant corkscrew is twisted and wedged into the seafloor and guarantees to resist the violent pulling and jerking of a super yacht tossed about by a major cyclonic event. Like in trance we waited for the friendly officials to come aboard. Patiently we filled out the many very important looking forms. Grumpily we paid the rather steep fees for the health this, customs that, immigration here and bio-security there. Gratefully we accepted the news that we were now free to go ashore!
The hustle and bustle of the little town of Savusavu looked surreal. A beat-up truck spewed clouds of badly combusted diesel fuel into its immediate surroundings and collected garbage left in black, white and orange plastic bags at the roadside. A handful of tinted windows sporting SUVs pursued smaller and quite obviously lesser vehicles for personal transport, the latter mostly rusty and worn out beyond fashionable style, advancing exclusively thanks to their owner’s trustworthy friends of mechanical genius in the messy world of an intentionally crippled economy. A good amount of men, women and children preferred the ancient form of displacement on proper feet and walked leisurely along the dusty waterfront. All this commotion however was only a shabby background painting for a slew of shiny cruising yachts clogging up the elongated harbor basin that stretched out between Sauvsavu town proper and the verdant Nawi Island. That slew reeked obnoxiously of self-importance and demonstrated cultural (and monetary!) supremacy. Welcome back to reality, my friends, welcome back to the realm of capitalist contrast where the plush haves are very much busy obscuring all light and lust from the thin plastic plates of the sadly sober, clearly curious and slightly jealous have-nots!
Sunset over Nawi Island, Savusavu Bay in the background